Education

Eli Capilouto focusing on UK facilities, state funding, 'balance' with athletics

Retiring UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., left, talked with new UK President Eli Capilouto at the UK HealthCare retreat at Keeneland on Monday. Capilouto also attended a recent SEC meeting in Florida, where he met with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.
Retiring UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., left, talked with new UK President Eli Capilouto at the UK HealthCare retreat at Keeneland on Monday. Capilouto also attended a recent SEC meeting in Florida, where he met with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.

Incoming University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has been looking and listening over the past few weeks, and his vision for Kentucky's flagship school is getting clearer.

And much of what he says UK needs stems from more and better funding.

"I start to find my voice and speak strongly about what moves me," he said in a recent interview. "I look forward to telling lawmakers, 'Look, there are a lot of states starting to do some aggressive things in higher education, and we've got to remain competitive.' It circles back to facilities and talent. We've got to have that state support."

Whether or not that support is forthcoming, Capilouto says he has recognized a number of needs at UK.

Topping the list is facilities, which will come as no surprise to anyone who works amid UK's aging infrastructure. A recent study identified $500 million in building needs on campus.

He also wants to see continued recruitment and retention of the best faculty, staff and students. And he said he has heard clearly that everyone at UK wants accountability, transparency and shared governance for everyone on campus.

At the invitation of President Lee T. Todd Jr., Capilouto attended the most recent Southeastern Conference meeting in Destin, Fla., where he had lunch with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.

"What I wanted to know about mostly was compliance and the integrity of the program and his seriousness on those subjects," Capilouto said. "I found him to be a person of strong conviction and courage on those matters.

"What comes with that is to make sure these athletes are student-athletes and that they get a quality education," Capilouto continued. "The commitment there was deep."

Capilouto said his work at the University of Alabama-Birmingham focused on improving undergraduate education and bringing all segments of the university together. That included sports.

"There always has to be a balance, but I view it as a wonderful asset," he said.

Most of all, he said, he has been struck by the quality and creativity of UK. One night, he attended the annual Grand Night for Singing. The day before, he went to Pikeville and met with UK's extension agent for the fine arts, Stephanie Richards.

"To know that 25 of the most impoverished counties in the country are in this state is almost overwhelming, but here are people coming together to say we're going to make a difference," he said.

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